Kick procrastination and focus easier by “clearing to neutral”

Takeaway: Whenever you finish an activity, clean it up to reduce the friction to starting it the next time.

Estimated Reading Time: 1 minute, 7s.

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When you walk into the kitchen and see 50 dishes in the sink, you’re a lot less likely to cook. The same holds true when you come back to your computer and there are a ton of windows open, when you wake up and there are things to get ready before you head out for a run, or when you have to clear a pile of stuff off your desk before you start working.

Enter the idea of “clearing to neutral”. Clearing to neutral is a ritual where, “whenever you finish an activity, you [move] everything so [its] is in neutral position.”1 According to Thanh Pham, a writer on the great blog Asian Efficiency, when you return to an environment that is neutral, you are much less likely to put off what you want to accomplish. Returning an environment to neutral eliminates all of the friction you would have otherwise had to get started later.

Pham also lists a few other examples of returning to neutral:

  • Resolving issues with family, friends, and your partner
  • Setting everything up for the next morning after you finish your morning ritual
  • Getting enough sleep tonight be ready for tomorrow

The bottom line: if you find yourself procrastinating, it might not all be in your head – it might be that you don’t return your environment to “neutral” to be ready for the next time you need to get stuff done.

Dirty dishes photo by keepingtime_ca.


  1. Source: http://www.asianefficiency.com/habits/clearing-to-neutral/ 

  • I love this. It’s like the idea of leaving space between things, and even better, because making psychic space by clearing to neutral makes more time space too. That equals double time space! That is very calming.

    • Chris

      Ah, I love that! Going to have to try doing that later on today. I feel the most productive when I’m hopping between things without reflecting on them, but just like with multitasking, I’m guessing that’s yet another case where you feel a lot less productive than you actually are.

  • Tomas

    I keep a to do list and I aim to resolve everything on that list as quickly as possible. You are right about the psychological aspect of it all – even if I complete the quick and easy tasks first, it makes the list much smaller, and I am more motivated to tackle the larger tasks.

  • Tomas

    I keep a to do list and I aim to resolve everything on that list as quickly as possible. You are right about the psychological aspect of it all – even if I complete the quick and easy tasks first, it makes the list much smaller, and I am more motivated to tackle the larger tasks.

  • Ezo

    I think that title is a bit misleading. It feels like you need to make whole work done before next time you need to work again. But, for example, if I’m programming then cleaning whole TODO makes starting work next day impossibly hard – because I don’t know what to do. At least for me, it’s best to leave work halfly done. Better title would be just “reduce friction required to start it next time”

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